There really is no right or wrong answer when it comes to discussing who the best quarterbacks are in college football each season. You could base you argument off touchdown-to-interception ratio, team success, leadership skills, or how many awards he earns at the end of the year — but in reality, it’s difficult to know for sure, because there are so many quality players to come through and make their case week in and out.
This season, the names that immediately cross your mind might be TCU’s Trevone Boykin and Baylor’s Seth Russell, who have a combined 4,446 yards and 52 touchdowns through the air. Or maybe it’s Jared Goff, Connor Cook, and Christian Hackenberg, who are three of the most highly rated prospects for the upcoming NFL draft.
But what if I told you that college football’s best quarterbacks don’t have much name recognition? Not much – if any – draft stock? No name brand team to play for?
Well, it’s true. Five of the FBS’ top 10 quarterbacks with the highest QBR ratings this season come from Group of Five programs, and are mostly under the radar seven weeks into the 2015 season.
Yes, Russell and Boykin top the list at No. 1 and 2, as expected. But only Stanford’s Kevin Hogan (4), Clemson’s Deshaun Watson (7), and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes (10) come in to round out the rest of the top 10 for the Power Five.
Enter Houston dual-threat quarterback Greg Ward, Jr., who leads all Group of Five members with an 86.9 QBR. Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty (86.0), Appalachian State’s Taylor Lamb (83.2), Memphis’ Paxton Lynch (82.3), and Middle Tennessee’s Brent Stockstill (82.1) finish things off.
Ward, a former wide receiver who was converted into a quarterback in the early parts of the 2014 season, has benefited greatly from his new head coach, Tom Herman – who was the offensive coordinator for Ohio State during the Buckeyes’ national title run. The 5-foot-11, 178-pound junior enters Week 8 completing 71.8 percent of his pass attempts (3rd nationally) for 2,155 total yards (631 rushing) and 23 touchdowns – 14 of which have came from the ground.
With a road win at Louisville next to his name, Ward has Houston (6-0, 3-0 AAC) ranked No. 21 in the AP Top 25. The Cougars, who score 45.7 points per game after posting 29.8 last season, are in prime position to make a run at the American Athletic Conference championship and a New Year’s Six bowl bid.
Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty might sound a bit familiar – he led the entire FBS with 4,830 passing yards and 49 touchdowns last season. He’s also on track to either meet or exceed those numbers in 2015, while leading the Hilltoppers (6-1, 4-0 C-USA) to a potential conference title.
LSU hosts WKU this weekend, and head coach Les Miles has already stated that Doughty is “every bit of an SEC quarterback.” Doughty, who has recorded 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions in his last four games, has the offense firing on all cylinders with 54.5 points per contest during that stretch.
Appalachian State (6-1, 3-0) entered the 2015 season as a dark horse candidate to win the Sun Belt Conference, and Taylor Lamb now has the Mountaineers’ title aspirations in clear sight. The sophomore only attempts 19.7 passes per game, but has already matched his season total in touchdowns from a year ago (17) and has his team rolling with five straight wins – including Thursday night’s convincing 31-13 victory over Georgia Southern, which took the Sun Belt by storm with an undefeated conference record in 2014.
Eliminate Lamb’s performance against Clemson in Week 2, and he is 73-of-110 (66.4 percent) with 1,238 yards, 16 touchdowns and three picks. The Calhoun (GA) native also has 255 yards and two scores on the ground to add to his resume, with plenty of room to continue developing as his career progresses.
Paxton Lynch might be the most well known quarterback on this list, and for obvious reasons. For starters, he’s 6-foot-7, 250 pounds – so you could say that it’s pretty difficult to miss him. He also was the starting QB during the infamous 2014 Miami Beach Bowl, in which Memphis defeated BYU 55-48 in double-overtime, but ended in a huge brawl that left several players bloodied on national television.
But most importantly, Lynch led the Tigers to an upset win against then-No. 13 Ole Miss in Week 7, where he threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns against a team that had beaten Alabama just a few weeks prior.
Lynch has Memphis (6-0, 3-0 AAC) ranked No. 18 – the highest-ranked G5 member in the AP Top 25, and the best mark in school history – and in excellent position to make a run with division rival Houston for the conference championship and possibly more.
Probably the most surprising player on this list, Middle Tennessee redshirt freshman quarterback Brent Stockstill – son of head coach Rick – has quietly put together an excellent debut season.
Though the Blue Raiders are 3-4 (2-1 C-USA), Stockstill has produced 2,064 passing yards with 16 touchdowns while completing 67.1 percent of his attempts. What’s most impressive, however, is the fact that he’s thrown just one interception per 65.3 attempts – and just one in total against Power Five competition in Alabama and Illinois.
There hasn’t been a single Group of Five quarterback to finish in the top 10 in QBR since Boise State’s Kellen Moore took the No. 2 spot at conclusion of the 2011 season. Houston’s Case Keenum also made an appearance at No. 7.
With another half of the regular season remaining before postseason play, recent history suggests that it’d be a bit dubious to predict that this will remain the same throughout the months of November and December.
Nonetheless, it’s refreshing – and exciting – to see some of the game’s proclaimed “little guys” to have the opportunity to put their names next to some of the best in the business.
It also forces us to continue re-defining the term “best” when it comes to breaking down college football’s top gunslingers.